Continuing my series on bike commuting, today’s topic is bike headlights. I’ve upgraded my lights over the past year, and am now happy with what I’m running. I keep two lights mounted on the front, two on the back. During the day, I only use one on each end, both on a blinking mode for visibility. During the night, I put one on each end blinking, and one on each end on steady. From my experience, this has made me the most visible to vehicles (based on how many vehicles pull out in front of me, etc.) I’m also more comfortable having two lights mounted, knowing that if the batteries die in one of the lights, I’m still able to see (and be seen).
While most people think of headlights as a tool to help a cyclist see the road, of almost equal importance is how much more visible the headlights make you to motorists (both day and night). Reflectors are nice, but they’re completely useless at night unless the car’s headlights are shining directly at you. Pulling up to an intersection, none of the cross traffic or vehicles that will pull out in front of you or hit you from the side can see your little reflector mounted on the front of your bike. But they can see your bright headlight shining directly at them. During the day, having a blinking light on the front allows motorists to see you at a glance. Let’s be honest, most drivers aren’t paying that much attention to the road to begin with, so anything to help them see you in the brief moment that they’re looking at the road in between text messages is a good thing!
There are lots of choices of headlights out there, and they run the spectrum of prices (from a couple bucks to a couple hundred bucks). Below are the two headlights that I currently use, and I’m choosing to leave my original headlight off this list (a $15 Cateye headlight that can be declared essentially useless compared to either one of these).
This is my primary headlight, and I absolutely love it. It’s plenty bright enough, usb rechargeable (using the same cord as my cell phone, which is convenient), and has proven to be able to withstand rain. In hindsight, I probably should have spent the extra couple of bucks on the Lumina 650, since it has a slightly brighter bulb, a little bit longer battery life, and comes with a helmet mount in addition to the handlebar mount (when I bought mine, the Lumina 500 was about $85, and the Lumina 650 was about $110. Current prices on Amazon are $105 and $110, making the Lumina 650 a no-brainer).
The Lumina 500 has four modes: low, medium, high, and blinking. I seem to use all of the brightness levels, depending on whether or not there are streetlights on that section of my commute. I’d probably keep it on high all the time if the battery life was better, but since I don’t feel like charging it every night, I switch back and forth between the brightness levels. Two things I appreciate about this light are that it cycles through the brightness modes without going off (you have to hold the power button down to shut it off, or hold it longer to make it go to blinking mode), and that the small light on the button changes color from blue to red when the battery is getting low. I end up charging the light every two to three days.
I had this light before the Lumina, and I thought it was pretty good until I mounted both of them on my bike at the same time. The Lumina blows this light out of the water. In all fairness, there was a relatively significant price difference between the two lights ($38 vs $85), but the difference in cost is well worth it in my opinion.
The Blaze 2 Watt has three settings: low, high, and blinking. The blinking mode on this light is great, in that it varies between pulses of low and high, making it more attention grabbing than a standard blinking mode. For night time riding, I put this one on blinking, and my Lumina on steady. During the day, I usually end up running the Lumina on blinking instead, since it is significantly brighter. The Blaze 2 Watt runs on two AA batteries, which is convenient in that I can run rechargeables and always have extras ready to go. There is no warning that the batteries are dying, and so when this was my sole headlight I always carried extra batteries with me (the light just starts to fade out somewhat rapidly).
The lights were positioned 25′ from my garage door. Not the most exciting photos, but it does allow you to see how the lights/modes show the roadway as well as objects in front of the bike. To keep things accurate, all photos were taken with the same aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and were not edited at all (minus resizing). The top two photos represent the Planet Bike Blaze 2 Watt (low and high), and the bottom three are the NiteRider Lumina 500. You can hold your mouse over the photo for the description of which light it is of, and click on the photo for a larger version.
Of particular importance, beyond the obvious brightness difference, is how much wider the light beam is from the Lumina 500 compared to the Blaze. This is extremely helpful when riding at night!
My Lumina 500 developed a rather loud rattling sound after a couple of months, although the performance remained unaffected. It sounded like something was loose inside the light when I took it off the bike and shook it. The light has a two year warranty, so I sent it in to NiteRider for service. Exactly 7 days after they received it at their repair facility, the light arrived back on my doorstep. The service note said that they replaced the mounting rails (inside the light). I did have to pay for shipping to their facility, but I was pleased with the quick turn around. Hopefully no more issues, but I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one again (although, as I mentioned earlier in the post, I’d go with the Lumina 650 next time).
If you commute, what headlight do you use?
Do you run it during the day, or just in the dark?